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NEW YORK (AP) _ Cardinal Edward Egan said he and his colleagues responded properly to past allegations of sexual abuse by priests and described the past year as the most difficult of his life.

In an interview with The New York Times, Egan defended his handling of abuse cases in the 1990s when he was bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Bridgeport, Conn. Egan left Bridgeport in 2000 to lead the New York archdiocese.

``I think we did this properly, as it was understood at the time, and I'm happy with what we did,'' he told the Times for a story in Friday's editions.

Sealed court records obtained by The Hartford (Conn.) Courant indicate that Egan, while in Bridgeport, failed to notify authorities of abuse allegations. The Courant and the Connecticut Post also have reported that documents show Egan allowed several priests facing such allegations to continue working for many years.

In the interview, Egan reiterated his previous assertions that he relied heavily on the advice of psychiatrists when deciding whether to suspend priests accused of sexual abuse.

``Right now, I have less and less confidence in depending upon the medical and psychiatric community,'' he said. ``It's too dangerous, it seems to me, to do anything now but to play always on the side of safety'' and quickly suspend priests, he said.

Egan said he did not agree with the way some bishops in other parts of the country have met with victims, established ministries or held healing ceremonies.

``I don't think that's the way to do it,'' Egan told The Times. ``I think we've handled it in a very serious way.''

Egan said that the sex abuse scandals, the Sept. 11 attacks and other crises have forced him to delay major initiatives for the archdiocese, including plans to reach out to immigrant groups. But he said he had been able to erase a more than $20 million operating deficit that he inherited.

The New York Archdiocese, the nation's third largest, serves 2.4 million Catholics in parts of New York City and its northern suburbs.